Controlling the Climate
By Timothy D. Brady
Climate control trucking isn’t hauling refrigerated freight; it’s more than that. Mike Blackston and Art Taylor, who have been doing climate control hauling for Legacy Transportation Services Inc., San José, Calif., discuss the unique requirements of this specialized transport.
What exactly is climate control hauling? How does it differ from running a refrigerated trailer?
Blackston: Humidity is the main difference. For artwork or electronics, moisture is an enemy and needs to be carefully controlled. Humidity doesn’t matter to refrigeration.
Taylor: Climate control requires keeping constant temperature and humidity so equipment and other sensitive commodities like wine or artwork don’t get compromised or sweat. The key is both temperature and humidity must be set and monitored based on the items being transported and stay in that specific temperature/humidity range to avoid damage. We’re responsible for one-of-a-kind items that cannot be replaced.
What kind of documentation and oversight is required on climate control loads that is not needed on general freight or refrigerated loads?
Taylor: Temperature and humidity are monitored, recorded and documented every 15 minutes through satellite tracking so we can see we are within temperature and humidity guidelines. If something spikes, both driver and Legacy management are notified immediately via email and phone. If it’s a temperature spike, I’ll stop and figure out why.
Why did you choose to do this kind of trucking?
Blackston: You increase your chance of a load here because at Legacy most of our freight is climate-controlled. The merchandise is very valuable and the customers are always glad to see you and appreciative when you arrive with it safe and sound. In climate control, the trucker works directly with the end user, dealing with people who appreciate quality service — whether hauling artwork, electronics, etc. In produce or general freight you don’t typically deal with the actual customer.
Taylor: The quality of work you do is really appreciated — and this is true with our loads in general. Customers want a good job done and are willing to have us do that. Delivering the best quality work is important to me.
What’s been your most challenging load?
Blackston: One time I hauled an exclusive-use, climate-controlled trailer. A small item was packed in a dishpack-sized (18”x18”x30”) metal case, then packed in another case inside another case. It was then suspended on spring hangers with shock sensors. We loaded and unloaded it with air skates.
We had special instructions, like how much to slow down for railroad tracks; if you were in snow you couldn’t put chains on, so you’d have to wait it out, etc. But this was summertime, so we were OK.
That was unusual — a 51’ climate-controlled trailer with something the size of a dishpack strapped against the wall. I figured that was pretty valuable.
Taylor: Every load’s a challenge in its own way. In Montana a couple of years ago, it was 45 degrees below zero, and we had to build a tent between the trailer and the building to make sure the equipment didn’t freeze getting into it. We had to build the tent and heat it up for a day before we could even unload.
Interesting loads I’ve had include artifacts on tour for the Smithsonian, wine collections, artwork and various types of machines. The Captain of the USS Comfort gave me a tour of the hospital ship after we unloaded; that was interesting to see how it operated.
What’s your favorite part about this specialized work?
Blackston: Meeting the customer — whether it’s a physicist or the curator at a museum — you’re working with people who really enjoy what they do. They also appreciate quality customer service and professionalism, and I like to offer that. They notice someone who’s willing to take an extra step. I enjoy what I do.
Taylor: Talking to the different customers, meeting them, and learning about them. People do recognize and appreciate quality. They realize when you do a good job in transporting their sensitive goods. With another kind of delivery you might not have this kind of appreciation or contact with the customer through the whole process. I like being involved in all of this.
What would you say is the downside?
Blackston: Other than a potential equipment failure, nothing. There’s always a chance you’ll be in a remote area where you’ll have an equipment failure and, even with your experience, a big temperature or humidity spike will cause damage to your load. That said, Legacy has a good system of checks-and-balances. If we have a problem, we notify them and they start working on it from the home base as well. I just always have that little fear in the back of my mind that the unit could go out and I can’t get it going in time to avoid damage.
Taylor: I don’t really think there is a downside. You have to stay on top of the regulations, but I don’t see any more regulation on climate control than other types of shipments. You just have to stay up-to-date in an ever-changing industry as far as laws are concerned.
What advice would you offer to a trucker who was interested in climate control hauling?
Blackston: You’ve got to be very conscientious and customer service oriented. If you aren’t, and you’re not willing to give 110 percent, you shouldn’t get into it. If you’re hauling household goods now, you need to do the best you can do, to the best of your ability and then some. Be professional. If you aren’t customer service oriented, you won’t have that customer for long. If you’re not willing to give customer service, there’s always somebody out there who will.
Taylor: First of all, be willing to do a job that’s over and above the next driver. You have to go into it wanting to do the very best job that you can — you can’t just “try to get by.” This wouldn’t be the right field to get into if you can’t commit to delivering your very best. Be concerned about your appearance and your equipment — you need to be professional. Get involved with an agent who has the same quality and professional service goals as you. It’s a team effort. If you do these things, I think you’ll move forward. If you do a good job at what you do now, you’ll be noticed and be able to move into climate control hauling.
I started hauling grain when I was 18 and did that until 1981. Then I started hauling household moves. In 1985, I began hauling electronics too. I got out of household moves in 2000, and started doing just trade shows and electronics. I started hauling climate control shipments when I began working with Legacy in March 2002. I’ve also been a mobile exhibit driver at Legacy for several years.
I started driving in 1981, hauling cattle for two years, then got into heavy haul. In 1990, I went with United Van Lines hauling special commodities. I’ve been hauling climate control since 1998, and I was Driver of the Year for United in 1999. In 2002, I started with Legacy Transportation Services, an agent for United. I was Driver of the Year for Legacy through United Van Lines in 2007.